Zen Buddhism is entirely about perception. Everything we believe about the world, all our opinions, all our views, all our likes and dislikes are based upon our perceptions and our interpretation of those perceptions. We all believe that our personal views about the world are correct because we have based our views on information gathered from our perceptions of the senses which we automatically assume to be sufficient sources of information to be able to make accurate judgements about the world. We have essentially five channels of information that we make use of, these being the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and sensation, each providing us with an insight in to a different aspect of the world.
In addition to the five senses there is something else going on in man that seems to be different or separate from the senses and we call this “thinking” or the intellectual faculty. This intellectual faculty is often thought of as a “sixth sense” by some eastern philosophies and it is this combination of the five senses and the intellectual faculty that constitutes the unenlightened mans essential driving force. He receives sense impressions from the senses and builds a model of reality based on these impressions and the abstract thinking that the senses invoke.
Having noted these facts however, an important questions arises as to whether the “logic” that man constructs from the process of abstract thinking applied to information received by him through the sense impressions is an accurate reflection of reality and can be relied upon for his past time of commenting on the nature of things and philosophising. If the senses were limited in nature then all of our views and opinions about the world would by implication also be limited in nature. To assume that our sense perceptions provide us with sufficient information about the world for us to be able to make accurate statements about ultimate reality is therefore a rather dangerous assumption. It could be that mankind in his normal unenlightened state is missing certain perceptions. What additional information about the world might a suddenly flowering new perception provide? Things that had previously seemed “logical” might suddenly be seen as illogical, things that seemed “illogical” might suddenly seem logical.
“Logic” therefore cannot be assumed to be a fixed entity but rather must be viewed as ultimately entirely dependent upon perception. The enlightened man’s logic is different to the unenlightened mans logic. The unenlightened man thinks the enlightened man talks nonsense but the enlightened man knows that the unenlightened man talks nonsense. The enlightened man was once in the shoes of the unenlightened man and knows how he previously thought. The enlightened mans “logic” is of a different type and order to that of the unenlightened man and so the unenlightened man finds it unintelligible. This is why Zen Buddhism abhors logic. This is why the Zen Masters of old would not engage in debate or attempt to explain Zen Buddhism in “logical” terms. The end experience, the experience the Masters were trying to induce in their students is from the unenlightened mans point of view unintelligible. So to the person who asks what Zen Buddhism is the Zen Master replies “A three legged toad”. To the person who makes a proposition as to the meaning of Zen Buddhism he replies “Stuff and nonsense”. These replies are not meant as explanations, they are designed to pacify the questioners intellect by rendering him essentially speechless and thoughtless.
To anybody who doubts the fact that experience and perception cannot be known to somebody who has not had that experience, simply try to describe for example the colour blue. To describe the colour blue is an absolute impossibility. To describe the colour blue to a person who has never experienced the colour blue via the sight sense is an absolute impossibility. It cannot be done because it is an experience or perception and ultimately all experience and perception is beyond intellectual grasping. The intellect can only label experience, it cannot conceive of experience. The intellect cannot gain the slightest hold on the experience of the colour blue and therefore cannot describe the experience, it can only label the actual experience as a memory. The intellect therefore plays games with the memory of experience in the form of labels.
If a person thinks carefully about this they will realise that every experience is ultimately beyond words and intellect. You cannot describe what the word “hot” means to somebody who has not experienced that sensation. And when you use the word “hot” in conversation, you assume that the person you are talking to has had that experience and therefore knows what you mean by that particular word. If they have not had the experience they will have no idea what you mean until you put their hand on a hot stove. It is therefore fundamental to understanding Zen Buddhism’s refusal to intellectualise and to explain itself that a person absorbs the fact that;
the intellect cannot conceive a non-experienced experience,
and that consequently
the intellect cannot conceive an entirely new experience,
it can only conceive an experience after the event.
Since spiritual development and enlightenment are ultimately experiences, they are beyond the grasp of intellectual understanding. The unenlightened person cannot understand the enlightened person. The Zen Master must therefore concentrate on creating the right attitudes and conditions in the minds of his students for new and “enlightening” perceptions to unfold. He must ruthlessly suppress intellectualisation and opinionation because he knows it is useless in the quest for higher experience and will only bog his students down in endless useless conjecture. Thus zen says:
“Do not seek enlightenment, merely stop cherishing opinions”
or better still,